N.C. Baptists on Mission sent its new water-rescue team to Texas on Thursday and expects to be pulling people out of Harvey’s floodwaters on Friday.
Gaylon Moss, director of disaster relief for the Cary-based Baptists, said volunteers who have deployed on international missions with the group have worked for several years with other water-rescuers, training to start their own team. Last October, the one-boat, four-member team conducted its first rescues on its own, picking people out of the water after Hurricane Matthew swamped much of Eastern North Carolina.
“We’re small, but we’ve got a real team,” Moss said. More than sightseers who go out after a storm just to see the damage, water-rescuers have saved lives. “They’re not just a bunch of goofballs out there running around with a boat.”
While floodwaters have begun to recede in parts of Houston, the storm has now dumped deep water on the Beaumont-Port Arthur area, stranding new areas Thursday and flooding even some shelters where people had fled.
The Baptist team is one of several from North Carolina that has been dispatched to help rescue Texans after the record flooding; the N.C. Department of Public Safety announced Thursday it had sent five teams – 92 people – from fire departments in Raleigh, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Charlotte and Henderson County to College Station, Texas. Two other teams, from Charlotte and Asheville with air support from the N.C. National Guard, went to Texas on Monday.
“North Carolina has developed one of the most respected and tested swift water rescue programs in the country,” said Mike Sprayberry, state emergency management director. “These are well trained and experienced rescuers who will serve the state of Texas well.”
The Baptist group is better known for its mobile kitchens, self-sufficient operations that can deploy on short notice and feed hundreds of people three meals a day. The group also will send child-care workers to serve in storm shelters, to give parents time to consult with insurance agents and fill out disaster-aid forms.
“We’re preparing out teams and getting things in order to roll out as requested,” Moss said.
Along with the Baptists, North Carolinans with Samaritan’s Purse and the United Methodist Committee on Relief are collecting money, supplies and the names of volunteers to help people whose homes have been flooded by Harvey.
Samaritan’s Purse, based in North Wilkesboro, has tractor-trailers full of chainsaws and other tools, cleaning supplies and tarps in Texas, said Tim Haas, manager of U.S. disaster relief for the organization. The teams are working with churches in Victoria, Texas, and have about 60 local volunteers out assessing damage. The groups will cut fallen trees, cover damaged roofs and start cleaning out some homes as soon as possible, Haas said.
Harvey hit Texas on Friday as a Category 4 hurricane, then parked in the Gulf of Mexico and continued to dump rain on the state. Massive flooding has forced tens of thousands of people into temporary shelters, with the Houston area hit especially hard. At least 37 people are believed to have died as a result of the storm.
Climatologists have said Harvey is the most extreme rain event in U.S. history, with nearly 52 inches of rain recorded in some areas.
Volunteers have been signing up with the N.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church, offering to deploy to Texas, but churches that would host the workers are not yet ready to receive them.
“We don’t go until we are invited. That’s the protocol,” said Ann Huffman, volunteer coordinator for the N.C. Conference, based in Garner. Sending volunteers too early can add to the problems that come with a natural disaster, Huffman said, so UMCOR coordinates with local conferences to send what they need, when they need it.
One of the suggestions on UMCOR’s website is to make relief kits that include cleaning supplies such as scouring pads, dust masks and work gloves.
In North Carolina, thousands of volunteers are trained as disaster responders through their churches and can travel on short notice – many on the day they’re called – to anywhere in the country. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, they can work in shelters, staff feeding stations and operate showering facilities.
Other teams go in and quickly begin helping homeowners clean out their houses, salvaging what hasn’t been destroyed and removing everything else to allow the home to dry.
But that’s only the beginning, and Huffman reminds those who want to help that recovery from such a widespread disaster is a long process and help will be needed for months – and years – to come. In North Carolina, volunteers still are working to help residents rebuild from Hurricane Matthew, which caused catastrophic flooding in the state in October 2016.
“We’re still mucking out houses from that storm,” Huffman said.
The N.C. Conference maintains a small warehouse of emergency supplies to help after disasters. Those include flood buckets, which contain cleaning supplies; health kits, stuffed with toiletries; and school kits, with basic school supplies. The conference has about 1,000 flood buckets stored and ready to send to the Gulf area if requested, Huffman said.